The one and only, Kim Klein.
Have you washed your hands lately? Sanitized yourself? If you haven’t, take a moment and do so. We can wait. Aaaaaand…thanks. No one knows how this pandemic will play itself out. We do know that some churches in the Seattle area have cancelled worship services and are hosting on-line ones instead. Because of this, it may be a good time to implement electronic giving. To that end, here’s an excellent resource that the Greater Northwest Area of the UMC has developed. Stay safe out there.
When I first arrived in Salem, Oregon, (egads, more than 25 years ago), I volunteered at a local homeless shelter. On the Executive Director’s bookshelf sat Fundraising for Social Change. He quoted from it many times. Soon the author’s name started floating around. Kim Klein. When I finally got into the fundraising field myself, I wanted to know more. I bought Kim’s book. Flying in from the Bay Area, she delivered not one, but two fabulous day-long workshops in Salem and…she even consulted with our church about a capital campaign. Kim Klein became my mentor-from-afar.
I recently asked Kim if I could interview her for this blog. And she graciously said, “yes.” This is the email exchange we had. It’s a little longer than usual, but you won’t regret a second of it. Enjoy, and be inspired.
Cesie: No one grows up saying, “Gee. I’d like to be a fundraiser one day.” How did you find yourself in the development field?
Kim: I wanted to be a Methodist minister and started at Pacific School of Religion. Part of that M.Div program was a field placement which I did at La Casa de las Madres—the first shelter for survivors of domestic violence (in those days we said ‘battered women’) in CA. I was supposed to be a chaplain of sorts (I had very little training at this point), but was put on the fundraising committee to raise money from churches. I soon realized that their biggest need was money, and that people hated fundraising almost more than anything else. This became my ministry.
Over your years in the field, what are some of the biggest changes that you’ve seen in fundraising?
The Good Things:
The multiple ways we have of being in touch. I remember when answering machines were very rare, and when snail mail was the main vehicle for being in touch with donors. Cell phones, texting, voice mail, and many forms of social media mean that we can reach out to donors 24/7 with multiple messages on a variety of platforms and that donors can respond to us in an equal variety of ways.
Also, the technology of maintaining information on donors and prospects, both in the form of dozens of choices of CRMs [Customer Relationship Manager] and also various wealth search engines.
Another big change is the sheer number of nonprofits. In the early 1950’s there were about 30,000. By the 1970’s there were 350,000 and by the 1980’s 700,000 and today about 1.7 million.
The Really Pretty Terrible Thing:
Which leads to the biggest change of all: the loss of government funding for basic services and human needs, and the privatization of the public sphere. So, despite a huge nonprofit sector, the United States is worse off in terms of progress toward ending racism, sexism and poverty, and has far worse public schools, public health care, and the like than in earlier times.
How can people who are passionate about social change, feel good about raising money when money is seen by them (and others) as being “dirty” and “bad”?
They can stop seeing it that way. The only entities that win when we see money as “dirty” are people and places that prefer to pay different wages to women and people of color than white men or who think it is fine to have more money than half of the world’s population combined. (If you can’t ask for money, you can’t ask for a raise. If you can’t ask someone in a job similar to yours what they make, you can’t know if you are paid less or more than that person. In the larger sphere, if you don’t understand money, you can’t understand any public policy.)
Money is simply a tool. It is vastly unequally distributed and the tax system is unfair and unjust, to be sure. But money is just a means of exchange. It can be earned badly or well; used to hurt or help. But it has no moral value of its own.
With your prognosticator hat on, what do you think will be the new thing coming down the pike in fundraising in the next five years?
With the aging out of the Boomer generation, I would say the next five years are going to see record numbers of bequests and other legacy gifts. And, the organizations that get those gifts will have some strong legacy giving programs in place. [Cesie: check out my recent legacy giving posts, here and here.] I suppose (sadly) we will see giving by check become rarer and rarer. Text-to-give will become very common.
A danger, which is already happening, is that people will begin to bypass nonprofits and attempt to solve problems directly. We already see this with the plethora of GoFundMe and the like raising money for everything from school trips to kidney transplants. Many people find nonprofits too slow and too bureaucratic, with long waiting lists. They are going directly to friends and family. I have a lot of sympathy for that, but it further privatizes and atomizes very real needs that ought to be addressed in the public domain.
As to brand new, never before seen in human history, I hope we will begin to build our sector and our society around the notion of the common good, or as the late Paul Wellstone said, “We all do better when we all do better.” (That last sentence is more of a hope than a prediction.)
Your classic book, Fundraising for Social Change is in its 7th edition. Congratulations! Besides great writing (naturally) what accounts for its longevity?
Thanks to my editor, it is written in plain language. It is designed to be read by people who are already tired and have little time but need to know something. Thanks to the thousands of people I worked with over many years, it contains nothing that is not real and that has not been tested over and over. In that way, it is very similar to your excellent column!!
This blog primarily reaches mainline congregations. A number of those congregations are small and struggling. Any words of advice for them?
It is tough and I don’t want to be glib. But I think what we tell ourselves tends to come true. “We are struggling” can become a kind of mantra. How about ‘We are small and can be nimble. We don’t have much money so we must play to the strengths of everyone in the congregation and make sure everyone feels needed. We can be bold because we have little to lose. We are living the Gospel, ‘take nothing for the journey.’”
If you could encourage folks to do one thing that could boost their fundraising/stewardship, what would that be?
Again nothing original here: ASK
Ask and you shall receive
Seek and you shall find
Knock and the door will be opened.
Kim's other passion? Taking care of feral cats.
Of all the many things that you have done over your career, what are you most proud of?
I stuck with it. Fundraising can be thankless. It is often a behind the scenes function, a job with great responsibility and little authority. People leave all the time. And I often had one foot out the door. But I stayed, and in no small part because I realized this is my ministry. This is what God called me do.
Amen, sister Kim. Thank you.